A weeklong series of ideas for improving urban life.
"Hands-free scooter," "Swagway," "clown conveyor" — whatever you call self-balancing personal transporters, you’ve also got to call them popular. Favored by the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Justin Bieber, and tweens the world over, these “hoverboards” that aren’t hoverboards are flying out of Chinese factories faster than toxic pollutants. BuzzFeed reports that there are at least 1,000 factories making them in Southern China alone.
But anyone who’s paid attention to the booming personal-transportation sector knows that these things are the least interesting devices in a category that promises to make your urban commute a lot more fun. Here are some favorites.
1. Ninebot One (pictured above)
What is it? Ninebot’s One is a small unicycle that balances and propels itself when a rider stands on the two foot shelves that fold out from the wheel. As with a more traditional unicycle, the learning curve is steep. Reports say three days are needed to master balance and controls. (Three weeks if you were born before Jaden Smith.) The customizable LED lights, on the other hand, are easy to figure out and make this device among the better-looking personal transporters.
User review: “I love it, feels like the future, but I am dreading the day when (if?) it malfunctions and sends me sliding face first across the floor.” —Amazon
What is it? A simpler, more classic alternative to the “hoverboard” craze, Acton’s Kickstarter-funded RocketSkates are electric Heelys for adults who still wear Heelys. Like most of its contemporaries, the RocketSkate is controlled with foot movements. Angle the front of your foot downward and the skates send you hurtling forward. Lift your toes and the brakes engage. Unlike most other personal transporters, though, the RocketSkate keeps your feet separated, leaving at least a remote possibility that if things go wrong you’ll be forced to do the splits.
User review: “In the process of learning to ride I did a lot of panic running: I went too fast, lost my balance and control over the skates, and inadvertently used my toes as a brake. That led to a few falls and some sore toes.” —the Verge
What is it? One of the more novel personal transporters, the WalkCar looks more like a laptop than anything you’re used to putting on your feet. It’s as easy to carry around as a MacBook, too. That’s kind of the idea, inventor Kuniako Saito told Reuters. “I thought, ‘What if we could just carry our transportation in our bags, wouldn’t that mean we’d always have our transportation with us to ride on?’” In practice, it’s an aluminum body atop a quartet of wheels that can reportedly hold 265 pounds and travel a tick over six miles per hour. Start it up by stepping on, and stop by jumping off. The WalkCar was supposed to hit Kickstarter last month, but according to a statement on its website, the initial attention the product got has its inventor doing work to “improve our product.”
User Review: None available yet.
4. Boosted Dual+ electric skateboard
What is it? It might look like a simple longboard, but there’s a major difference between the longboards of yore and Boosted’s Dual+. Namely, that this one doesn’t ask you to push. Just stand atop the fiberglass deck and a 2,000-watt motor carries you along as fast as 22 mph. If that’s too fast, the handheld control makes it easy to slow down and then get moving again once you change into a pair of dry pants.
User Review: “The wireless controller make this thing function like a remote control and you can actually drive it around while not onboard. If you were moving a box of junk down the street for example, you could set it on the board and walk alongside while remotely powering it all forward. Awesome.” —Electric Ride Review
What is it? A self-propelled scooter for those who don’t quite trust self-balancing transporters to balance themselves. EcoReco’s M5 is a motorized Razor scooter that can reach 20 mph and scoot along for 20 miles on a single charge.
User review: “I easily pass those ‘tour-de-france’ cyclists, whizz by the delivery guys; and in traffic, it’s a dream. If you slow down, you can even get away with riding on the sidewalk for a short period of time if there are no people around.” —Amazon
6. Revelo Flex electric bike
What is it? Revelo’s Flex is a lightweight electric bike that can be folded into a compact package and pushed along the ground when you’re not atop the seat. And even when you are up there, there’s no need to exert yourself. The Flex might be called an electronic bicycle, but it will easily scoot along without any pedal power at all.
User review: “With a peak output of ~350 watts, this thing really zips! I was able to climb the driveway of my house easily and let a couple of my larger ~200 lb friends test it out.” —Electric Bike Review
7. RYNO Microcycle
What is it? Part unicycle, part motorcycle, all microcycle? The RYNO is a single-wheeled organism with a ton of power packed into its one fat tire. With a top speed of 10 mph, the RYNO is meant more for the sidewalk than the open road. All that’s required to operate it is the ability to lean forward and somewhere to go.
User review: “It’s hard to describe what it feels like to ride the Ryno, but the main takeaway is it’s much easier and safer than it seems. The vehicle really does balance itself without a hitch, and getting the hang of leaning forward and backward to accelerate and decelerate takes only a few seconds.” —Wired